Complying with cultural obligations

How do you comply with cultural obligations which influence the use of brief intervention with particular clients?

When you are working with clients from another cultural background, you will need to be clear about the particular cultural obligations which need to be observed and which may influence the particular intervention with some clients.

For interventions to be successful, responses must be culturally sensitive.

Issues you need to consider may include:

  • protocols in working within particular cultural communities
  • culturally specific service providers
  • family and community networks, e.g. elders
  • immigration status conferred by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, for example:
    • resident
    • visitor
    • refugee.

Issues in working with clients from other countries and/or cultural communities could include:

  • language, literacy and numeracy levels
  • access to resources and networks
  • past history – recent arrival, boat people, refugee camp residence
  • lack of familiarity with Australian norms, customs and laws
  • grief and significant loss issues and other emotional traumas.

Working within cultural community protocols

Community protocols are the understandings established between agencies and communities to allow ongoing communication and visits. They are essential to ensure that communities are treated with respect and dignity.

The formality of these protocols will vary, depending on the expectations of the community. We will look at one example below.

Traditional Aboriginal communities may have very formal arrangements for dealing with non-Aboriginal service providers, involving strict adherence to traditional customs determined by traditional owners or elders; Aboriginal people living in cities may not necessarily expect the same level of formality.

In the case of traditional communities, you would need to familiarise yourself with the processes expected by each tribal grouping.

Protocols may require you to:

  • identify all relevant groups and individuals to be contacted before you arrange visits
  • clarify the notice expected by the community and the means by which the community expects to be contacted
  • consider how best to provide reliable information on your work program, potential discussions and accommodation needs
  • negotiate an acceptable two-way communication process to allow ongoing feedback
  • negotiate the means to ensure the community is fully involved in decisions about it, including using community suggestions and interpreters, if necessary.


Engaging with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community: Listen to Colleen Wall, a Senior Kabi Woman and Director for Arts and Cultural Heritage within WANYIRAM Pty Ltd. Colleen talks about the protocols for engaging with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Listen to the protocols

Text version (Word Document 44KB)

Code of ethics for dealing with Aboriginal communities

The following code of ethics applies to workers dealing with all Aboriginal communities. It was developed for the Certificate in Remote Area Field Work (Northern Territory Local Government Industry Training Advisory Board, 1994). This is an excellent guide to support working in a culturally diverse context.

While carrying out your duties as a field worker, you must:

  • respect the rights of others
  • promote two-way communication across cultures
  • be aware of and abide by any rules, regulations or traditional laws which may apply to the community
  • recognise and have knowledge of social and cultural differences
  • act professionally in an accurate, unbiased and accountable manner
  • act with honesty and flexibility
  • refer any problems that are outside your areas of expertise to an appropriate person or organisation for resolution
  • share knowledge and expertise as a resource
  • not use your position for personal gain
  • not be intoxicated or under the influence of any drug.

It is very important that you are open to understanding diversity when you are working with clients in community and disability services. Diversity needs to be valued and respected, whether it is cultural, ethnic, ideological, or concerns lifestyle, sexuality, political views or socio-economic status.

Be prepared to evaluate and challenge your own reactions and pay attention to ways in which you might express unintentional racism through the way you respond. Question rather than assume.


Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 3:31 PM